Columns

Vermont Debates Plans to Freeze Out ICE

Iranian worshippers walk past a painting of the late revolutionary founder Ayatollah Khomeini and Basij paramilitary force members at the conclusion of a Friday prayer ceremony in Tehran on Oct. 13, 2017. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

It might take one day, 20 hours and 35 minutes to drive from Mexico City, Mexico, to Montpelier, Vt., but the Green Mountain State began the first full week of March with town hall and legislative debates over plans to maintain a wide separation between federal immigration authorities and local police.

While several town hall meetings featured neighbors shouting at each other about whether their communities should attach “welcoming” or “sanctuary” to their names, the Vermont House was getting ready for similar-themed legislation that could split the GOP caucus.

House Minority Leader Don Turner (R) said the lower chamber definitely will not follow the Senate’s lead and unanimously pass legislation that would block local and state police from helping Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

The House Judiciary Committee considered the legislation, H. 228, March 2 and took no action.

Turner told the Associated Press that Vermont law enforcement officials haven’t had any problems with federal immigration authorities. He doesn’t see the need for any legislation.

“I continue to think that (this bill) is a solution in search of a problem,” Turner said. He is also concerned that if H. 228 is approved it could open up local and state police to lawsuits.

If the legislation does make it to the House floor, Turner said he expects to see a divided GOP vote. He predicted Republican lawmakers would listen to their constituents. And Turner said he’s heard as many of the people in his district speaking out against the measure as those who are for it.

Gary Shattuck, a former Vermont federal prosecutor and legal advisor in Kosovo and Iraq, opined in the VTDigger that this is all moving much too quickly. He also wrote that Vermont has a long history of cooperating with federal authorities dating back to 1808 when a couple of Rutland militiamen were killed in Burlington while attempting to enforce an unpopular federal mandate from Thomas Jefferson.

“Secondly, the effort pursued by the (Scott) administration, and others, to justify disparaging national policies utilizes inflammatory, misleading and blatantly incorrect language. It is the equivalent of what Abraham Lincoln called ‘ingenious sophistry’ when he derided the South for starting the Civil War as it sought to convince the public that it was acting in a lawful manner,” Shattuck wrote.

H. 228 and its Senate companion, S. 79, do have the blessings of Gov. Phil Scott (R) and Vermont Attorney General T.J. Donovan (D). In fact, the proposals were their creations.

“Despite how you may feel about the contents of the president’s executive orders, it is increasingly clear that many elements in the orders have the potential to violate the constitutional rights of American citizens, and infringe on states’ rights afforded by the Tenth Amendment,” said Gov. Scott when he unveiled the proposals in February.

The proposal would prohibit local and state police from collecting any immigration information that goes beyond what is absolutely necessary to carry out their law enforcement duties. The bills would also stop police, in some cases, from providing information on residents to federal agents. A third provision in the bills would allow Vermont’s governor to sign agreements between police and federal authorities who want to deport illegal immigrants.

“This legislation serves to protect Vermont and Vermonters against some of these potential violations, and to reassure our communities and citizens of their safety, and security here in Vermont,” Scott said.

Attorney General Donovan said the legislation was all about what Vermont was all about — “protecting individual freedoms and policing at the local level – Vermonters protecting Vermonters.”

As gutsy as they might sound — standing tall against Washington and a president who was destroyed by Hillary Clinton and Vermont voters in November — Scott and Donovan also took great pains to make sure the bills would not conflict with any federal immigration laws that might set up Vermont as a sanctuary state.

President Trump has threatened to withhold federal funding from cities or states that declare themselves as “sanctuaries” that would not cooperate with ICE.

That was also on the minds of some Vermont residents who took part in town hall meetings March 6 as they debated how to keep ICE away from the doorsteps of their neighbors who might be in the United States illegally.

In Bennington, Vt., Vermont Public Radio reported residents wound up scratching out the wording of a resolution that would have declared the town a “safe sanctuary” for illegal immigrants. They replaced it with the phrase “welcoming community.”

The first resolution stated “town, state county and federal officials shall not in any way support or enforce any profiling, discrimination or other conduct which follows the referenced executive order in practice or in theory.”

The second resolution, which was approved, said only that the “people of the Town of Bennington hereby resolve that our town shall be a welcoming community for all peoples including undocumented persons, immigrants, and refugees.”

But the people of Plainfield, Vt., took a stricter stance.

They decided their town, no matter what Trump threatened to do with their money from Washington, should be a sanctuary town that “will have policies that direct employees to refuse the application of any request from a state or federal agency that requires the identification of a resident’s immigration status.”

Mike Carriveau was on the losing side of the Plainfield vote, and he wasn’t happy with many of his neighbors.

“Remember this much, servicemen gave their lives to protect these borders, both outside and within,” Carriveau said. “You’re making a mockery of them now by saying we don’t care.”